Posted by Richard Solomon on February 16, 2018
Happy New Year! Well, at least for those of you who celebrate the Lunar New Year (which was often called “Chinese New Year” back before I was old enough to drive). If you don’t normally celebrate now, then take the rest of the day off and tell your boss I told you to*.
This may end up as more of a “Flashback” posting than a “Flashback to Basics” as I had a topic in mind (which I’ve been meaning to post for months) but the title I wanted to use just didn’t fit with a New Year theme. As I reluctantly began to work out another title which might, one of the random neurons in my brain fired and a name I’d not used or even heard in MANY years popped to the forefront: NEWCARD and the flashback began…
No, that’s not me internet shouting, the original proposal actually was all capitals like that “NEWCARD” – take a gander at one of the early press releases if you don’t believe me! To understand NEWCARD, you have to go even further back in time to the PCMCIA (People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms – err, I mean, Personal Computer Memory Card Industry Association) standards. The very first PCMCIA cards were basically the old “AT Bus” (later called “ISA Bus”) just mapped into a “small” (by contemporary standards) plug-in module
That standard evolved to become “PC Card” and later “Cardbus” which used the original parallel PCI interface running 33MHz at 32-bits wide. This spawned the CompactFlash standard which is still in use today in professional digital cameras, and perhaps should be the subject of another blog post since there’s a PCI Express connection down that evolutionary path as well.
Clearly PCMCIA was closely tracking the common I/O bus interfaces in PCs – first ISA, then PCI, so it was natural that as PCI Express became dominant, PCMCIA should follow. This brings us to NEWCARD – perhaps a good idea in search of a good name?
Pretty soon NEWCARD was renamed “ExpressCard” and it came in two different sizes, both of which could use either of two different interfaces – PCI Express or USB.
NEWCARD/ExpressCard was unique in that I believe it was the first mixed-standard combining USB and PCI Express. Unfortunately ExpressCard never really seemed to develop a devoted following – perhaps because laptop computers were being supplanted by even smaller notebook computers. Thus a form-factor that started out as “Wow, that’s small!” had become “too big” to put in most portable computers.
As the year 2010 opened, PCMCIA officially dissolved and the USB-IF took over their standards. While it may be argued that NEWCARD wasn’t “successful” it certainly did show 1) that the future was smaller and smaller I/O form-factors and 2) that multiple standards bodies could work together to produce a form-factor which could be used in an even wider variety of applications.
Today you can see this USB/PCIe combination continue with the evolving “M.2” standard supporting high-speed USB variants and even higher-speed PCIe connections up to x4 link widths. But that’s a topic for another posting.
I hope you enjoyed today’s Flashback, please feel free to leave a comment with ideas for future topics (Flashbacks or otherwise), and as always, please subscribe to ExpressYourself by clicking here for RSS or here for email so you don’t miss out on any future updates!
*By opening any of the web pages, emails, or other renditions of this blog, you explicitly accept that neither Richard nor Synopsys are responsible for any harm you may suffer by taking any of the so-called “advice” in any of Richard’s postings – to include, but not limited to, getting fired for not showing up for work just because “some guy on the internet said to stay home“. -Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, Esq. (who are NOT related to the Synopsys legal team in any way shape or form.)
I’ve been involved in the development of PCI chips dating back to the NCR 53C810 and pre-1.0 versions of the PCI spec so have definitely lived the evolution of PCI Express and PCI since the very beginning! Over the years I have worked on variations of PCI, eventually moving on to architecting and leading the development of the PCI Express and PCI-X interface cores used in LSI’s line of storage RAID controller chips. For the last ten plus years I've also had the honor of serving on the PCI-SIG Board of Directors and holding a variety of officer positions. I am still involved in PCI-SIG workgroups and I present at many PCI-SIG events around the world. Back before the dawn of PCI, I received my B.S.E.E. from Rice University, and hold over two dozen U.S. Patents, many of which relate to PCI technology.